Is the East Africa Civil Society Organisation a recycled INGO?

Is the Civil Society Organisation (CSO) in East Africa a mere extension of the northern-INGO and its problems?

Change Cartoon

Why change, we are Civil Society!

I returned from my Christmas break ready to follow developments in the INGO vs. local civil society effective-partnership dialogue that I blogged on towards the end of 2014 https://gabazira.com/2014/12/18/pitfalls-to-civ-society-partnership-wake-up-ingo/ . Recalling the debate at the meeting last year, I was eager to see mark-stones laid that would define the twin-subjects of an effective CSO and later effective CS business model.

However, comments to my blog/s and discussion with development practitioners have forced me to reconsider whether the East African CSO in its current form, is the answer to the poverty-eradication challenges we face in the region.  My recent visit to Uganda and the poverty I saw, is still fresh in my mind.

I share below, and ‘verbatim’ I must add, some of the comments and conversations that are causing my change of heart. Moreover a change of heart, on the belief I have held for as long as I have understood development and a bit of ‘aid-industry-english’. As an ardent believer in the ‘effectiveness’ of people and organisations, I do not want to spend my energy discussing an ‘object’ in this case CSO, that is condemned to death by many. Among the latter many, respected development professionals.

So, what is this CSO condemnation?

i. ”Forget CSO for heaven’s sake! These are a batch of job seekers finding ground. As a social development worker, I have seen change coming from (caused by) household members, not CSOs! CSOs are middlemen and women between people and donors. Therefore, how do you empower household members to cause change from within? That will be our next discussion when we meet and discuss Sheema district!”

ii. ”The roles that … ascribe[s] to civil society are donor-ascribed roles. They would be largely rejected by civil society actors in Myanmar – where I am working now. Much more important for them are their key role in building the nation – not the state, and in carrying out what they call “autonomous civic initiatives” which are essentially people-to-people activities and programmes. These are the two areas where it is almost impossible to attract donor funds, and this is why they see the watch-dogging as a donor agenda.

iii. ‘’CSO organisations are a tool of the Western aid-architecture”

Apparently, the CSO that I have come to view as the panacea for delivering poverty-eradication solutions in East-African villages is not worth its value. Should I be judged harshly for believing the CSO doubters?  In hindsight, I should acquit myself of guilt re.: over-trusting the CSO, since every time I write that CSO’s are the answer to delivering poverty-eradication solutions, I have also accompanied that sentiment with caveats such as:

”The foundation for a viable organisation and society is built around: entity-effectiveness, that is in turn built around robust and grounded strategic thinking and implementation, built around a strong-mindset to keep working and the agility to learn and change, until problems are solved. Poverty eradication is hard work…” https://gabazira.com/2015/01/14/effective-poverty-eradication-in-luuka-uganda-is-the-deve-preneur-model-the-answer/

In the above qualification, comes my belief that while the East Africa CSO may have issues today, they can be resolved by BOLD and STRATEGIC leaders out there.

If the CSO is this troubled, why is the development industry blind to the situation and can it be salvaged?

May it be the case that global aid industry does not have better alternatives than the CSO to directly deliver development?  It is a plausible assumption that the aid-industry and its power-holders are simply not bold-enough to determine that they can pull the plug on the CSO (and its INGO-friend I must add) and still survive. I certainly don’t want to see the latter, partly because supporting and working for and with the CSO earns me a living.  In addition, I still think that the East Africa CSO can be turned from bad to good by learning ‘effective-organisational’ habbits.

As an East-African INGO insider, I’m acutely aware that the tide is turning against the INGO and the CSO, in favour of the private-sector solution to poverty eradication. Donors, big and small are talking about private sector and its ’new’ power to deliver poverty-eradication solutions. The writing on the wall is becoming ever clearer that the CSO in its current state and its INGO-friend is not the answer to eradicating poverty, at least in this part of the world I live.

The East Africa CSO has turned out be:

– a mere link between the western donor and INGO
– a mere change of guards since the CSO has taken wholesale work in the community that until recently the INGO delivered
– a sub-contractor of the INGO
– a copy-cat of the INGO, duplicating bad habits the INGO has been accused of – i.e. liking for big vehicles in urban areas, urban as opposed to rural presence etc
– not always very mindful of the Value-For-Money principle and delivering effective development programming

But despite all the above, there is salvage for our East African CSO, and it is something you are all familiar with: the aid industry, operating as it does, is among a few lucky ones in the world, that tries various new things and when the trial/s fail, it will only try another time, and again and again!  After all even in the model private sector, product development comes from research and testing. As long as the CSO keeps experimenting, it may just about survive and for a long time indeed. After all, we are talking about a very complicated problem here – poverty-eradication.

Let us be very careful, not to assume that the CSO is untouchable, especially since I know many can’t survive without western donor money. Below is some indication of a shift in development-leadership towards the private sector. Of-course, we have all heard before of public-private sector partnerships, so what is different this time?

“To the development community, ignoring the role of business in development is no longer an option. Don’t work in parallel with business when you can work together, and help businesses participate in the development push.” – Justine Greening @DFID_UK

Justine Greening at LSE and

Justine Greening at LSE (2014) – ‘Econ. devpt. is … only way countries can leave behind chronic poverty…’ Picture: LSE

However, as we have seen again and again the CSO may, after all, be indispensable, or is it?  Statements like ”…. help businesses participate in the development push…..” from global ‘aid-governers’ like J.Greening may be the indicator that as opposed to disposing of the INGO/CSO, we (read +I) may just be still in with a shout, after ‘we’ have been asked to HELP business understand poverty and development.  There is something about poverty, that even me that was born in it, professors that have researched it, don’t understand – it is poverty, after all!

As i end this blog, I for some strange reason understand better, the fact that the modern CSO in East-Africa is mostly an extension of the INGO and its tentacles in the global aid architecture.  The dynamics in the aid industry present like a political party undergoing succession for its leadership. The INGO is being asked to step aside from direct implementation, but be replaced by the East Africa CSO. Haven’t we then, done an excellent job of selling this ‘change of guards’ model, even without discussing its effectiveness? If there is one word the aid-industry may have effectively borrowed from the private sector of old, it may be the cartel.

Whatever causes the aid industry, INGO, and ultimately local CSO in East Africa to be what it is, there should not be room for complacence.

Is the East-Africa CSO keeping an eye on a changing and turbulent environment, plus doing enough to change itself?



Categories: Design

Tags:

9 replies

  1. Thank you for this interesting dialogue. I look forward into your “delving into which types of the archetypes are African in nature”. It is good to see more blogs analyzing the practicalities of ‘development’ and poverty eradication from the local practitioner’s perspective.

    Like

  2. Dear @intldogooder

    Thanks for taking time to read my latest blog, plus respond comprehensively and even challenge us more. Your comments bring out very well, the other side of ‘D’evelopment – it can be complex, self-serving, yet necessary for society to thrive, esp. societies like the one I was born and live in.

    A few comments then I will answer your questions:

    By coincidence, my blog topic next week is on ‘why the CSO as we know it here, has opted to clone the INGO’. One perspective to the blog will certainly be on the archetypes of CS, albeit from a western point of view. Mike Edwards in his book Civil Society does a very good job of defining archetypes and I will be delving into which types of the archetypes are African in nature and why they have been relegated to second-place. More on the diversity of CSO’s then

    Very interested in your ‘no-capacity’ ‘no accountability’ quip – we may find that the informal civil society we relegate to second place like ‘my mother’s village burial group’ don’t even need money to change their status quo, but other facilitation. I’m indeed worried that money from ‘D’evelopment in its current form, shall instead kill informal CS

    True that we ‘complexise’ development and to be honest, it is all being turned and at a very fast rate, into a SCIENCE with PhD’s etc. Once it gets to that, you need a certain specialized CSO to deliver that science and that is where things go wrong. I actually wonder why we have the tendency to make development theory harder by the day – perhaps that is ‘D’evelopment….

    So let’s discuss:

    –What are the best kinds of funding mechanisms that will increase CSOs’ responsiveness and resourcefulness, rather than distract them from their constituencies?

    funding mechanisms (FM) can’t be one size fits all as we see today; FM’s should answer to the real needs of CS constituencies and not the analysis that we professionals have done in our offices and laptops – that will take a real change in approach though (I did blog about the deve-preneur approach recently may be it may have some of the answers); the very formal/western paradigm in practically all FM’s, scares off CSO’s and that may need ‘neutralizing’ significantly

    –Do we acknowledge and challenge the aid policies and practices that marginalize and demotivate people, especially local activists? What are the minimum structures and financial controls necessary to get more people a seat at the table?

    –In all of the seemingly mundane acts of planning, coordinating and monitoring projects, do we acknowledge the deep and profound difference between service delivery and social change?

    Not sure we do, but we should – last week, Matt Desmond from Myanmar commented on a blog I wrote and he discussed well the issue of delivery of development tasks as at times mandated by development projects and GENUINE change in society. His view was that it is people-people initiatives that will impact development and I think I do agree with him

    –What’s needed to incentivize the risk-taking needed on the part of donors of all sorts to get more money to the ground, quicker than ever before?

    This is a tough one as CSO’s have at times been caught out on the corruption front – perhaps we need to investigate the underlying causes of those that are corrupt and address the same in a more holistic manner. DANIDA’s work with civil society is certainly a model for risk-taking…..give it a try!

    –Are donors and INGOs really interested in supporting local civil society to become more mature, autonomous, networked, and able to manage funds without their permanent presence? In other words, do we question the sources of power in “D”evelopment enough in our day-to-day work?

    I work for an INGO and at a very senior level – and I think my employer is genuinely starting to move in the direction of: ‘’it is CS to do it not us’’: we recently helped a Rwandan based CSO acquire funds from the EU and we look fwd. to seeing that organization bid without us next time round – the truth is that if we are to do the right thing and pass on tools of power, many of us may not have jobs in future, but if it is for the good of society, so be it..

    Like

    • Thanks Gabazira for continuing the dialogue! While nascent organizations and small, often informal movements like your mother’s burial society may lack the accountability mechanisms and sophisticated procedures that would make them more recognizable or esteemed in the development sector, they have important competencies that distinguish them from other actors and make them a vital missing link to sustainable development, such as their resourcefulness, responsiveness, contextualized knowledge, flexibility, and engagement with local government.

      Also, I suspect the phenomena of “briefcase NGOs” begs the question as to whether foreign aid itself has driven this rise and perverted the nonprofit incentive structure in countries receiving international assistance. I suspect some donors/INGOs have deeper issues with briefcase NGOs than others due to their “partnership” approach. Most “old-school” project-based funding mechanisms continue to be so risk-averse that they can easily be exploited. Accountability will never be found on the pages of a proposal or financial report. (More on that here: http://www.how-matters.org/2014/08/14/briefcase-ngos-how-widespread-really/)

      Luckily there is a growing number of small NGOs and foundations that specialize in offering direct funding at the grassroots level. They create broad guidelines, focus areas, and selection criteria to respond to what local leaders view as important, and have refined their due diligence over the years to largely weed out nefarious entities. (More on that here: http://www.how-matters.org/2011/01/10/small-grants-part-1/)

      Like

      • Dear @intldogooder – thanks for your continued engagement and sharing the two blogs

        I have read both blogs and the one re.: small grants is fascinating indeed. It’s quite eye opening when you start to imagine how much impact you get with so little resources, when money Is given to informal civil society organisations. It looks like with so little $, we can get much more impact than when we implement traditional giant-projects. And we ought to note that impact here is not ‘scale’ but ‘quality of result’, how ever small.

        I suppose small grants in this case have a clear methodology and one we can learn from: keep it simple stupid and keep your eyes focused on community ‘need’ and ‘solutions’, not those minted by us in conference rooms.

        Could a regenerated East africa CSO partner with its informal peer to deliver effective development? Is the informal peer at risk of becoming a hybrid of the formal CSO, just like the latter has been ‘hybridised’ by the INGO?

        Do we need such a partnership anyway?

        Like

  3. I agree that it’s high time for actors associated with international agencies to focus on honing their own skills, practices, and institutional processes to accompany and support local leadership and local systems, rather than overpower, co-opt, or even quash them. The INGO/local CSO relationship is an important place to start.

    Firstly, we need to acknowledge that number and diversity of civil society organizations in any one country is great. However, the number and diversity of CSOs that INGOs work with in any one country is often not. CSOs can include national-level advocacy organizations and a group of grandmothers gathered under the tree. The ability and penchant to understand and work with organizations of any size or type can and should become a core capacity of donors, governments, and all key stakeholders. Unfortunately, inside aid circles, the myth of “no capacity” and “no accountability” perpetuated about community-based organizations by professionals can be pejorative and disparaging, and does not do justice to some of these on-the-ground efforts that are well-run and making impacts in real people’s lives. The question is: How can INGOs get beyond the group of “usual CSO players” in the capital city and get more direct funding to nascent, under-the-radar organizations and small, often “informal” movements?

    Secondly, too much is being lost in the abstraction and over-technicalization of development work. Donors continue to refer to the absorptive capacity needed to implement large-scale programs. As such, CSOs are implicitly coerced to develop such “capacities” in order to gain access to donor resources. Despite all the speak of rights, we continue to witness “local implementing partners” (that term says quite a lot) being assessed and rebuilt into more professional organizations that lose their character and represent only the interests of the community that align with funding or Northern NGO guidelines.

    So let’s discuss:

    –What are the best kinds of funding mechanisms that will increase CSOs’ responsiveness and resourcefulness, rather than distract them from their constituencies?

    –Do we acknowledge and challenge the aid policies and practices that marginalize and demotivate people, especially local activists? What are the minimum structures and financial controls necessary to get more people a seat at the table?

    –In all of the seemingly mundane acts of planning, coordinating and monitoring projects, do we acknowledge the deep and profound difference between service delivery and social change?

    –What’s needed to incentivize the risk-taking needed on the part of donors of all sorts to get more money to the ground, quicker than ever before?

    –Are donors and INGOs really interested in supporting local civil society to become more mature, autonomous, networked, and able to manage funds without their permanent presence? In other words, do we question the sources of power in “D”evelopment enough in our day-to-day work?

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. Why has the East Africa Civil Society Organisation cloned the INGO? | Gabazira's Blog
  2. The INGO crisis of identity | Gabazira's Blog
  3. Developments’ forgotten child – the Community Based Organization | Gabazira's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: